Cue the Jeopardy Music

She announced that her stomach hurt and she was too sick to go to school about ten minutes before the bus pulled up in front of my house.

“Announced” perhaps isn’t the right word.  It was more like “groaned” or “moaned” or “whispered in agony.”  Something like that.  And there were tears and clutching the hands to the stomach and doubling over in pain.  That kind of thing.

I’ve always been paralyzed by decisions under pressure.  I’d be an utter failure on Jeopardy (besides not knowing anything about pop culture or sports) because whatever I do know flies out of my head stopwatchthe moment someone clicks on a timer.

In college, I studied all week before the test, but tucked my books and notes away the night before the exam.  The stress of cramming made my brain shut down.

And procrastinating makes me hyperventilate.

When you have a problem like mine, the utter inability to think under pressure, sometimes you say silly things just because you need to say something.  Sports are dangerous for me, too, because I can’t be trusted to react well when a hard object comes hurling at my face.

So, if my daughter had decided she was sick an hour before the bus arrival, I might have been wise and calm, but with ten minutes to go, I was a frantic mess of paralyzed mom-ness.

I grabbed the thermometer to gather objective evidence.  When I announced that no fever meant going to school, though, she collapsed onto the sofa underneath her blanket with a bowl held up under her nose.

What if I let her stay home and she wasn’t really sick and she used up an absence for no reason at all and then she thought it was okay to skip school any day her stomach felt a little bit ache-y?

She was going to school.

But what if I sent her to school and she really was feeling bad so she threw up in the middle of the classroom and someone had to clean it all up and she infected other students and it was all super embarrassing?

She was not going to school.

Finally, I made my decision:  I would keep her home for two hours and if she wasn’t really sick, she’d go to school.

Suddenly I felt so much better because I had two hours to consider the matter, weigh the evidence, and make another choice.  And at just after 11:00, I walked her into the school building with her backpack on and sent her off to her class.

Maybe it’s the fear of making a wrong decision that troubles me so.  Or perhaps it’s that I like to weigh the evidence, all the evidence and how do you know when you have all the facts?

It may be paralyzing at times, but perhaps there’s at least one good thing about this need to pause and think after all.

I wonder, as I read the book of Joshua, what would have happened if the nation of Israel had stopped for a single moment to consider the choice set before them, instead of rushing in all bold and blustery to a decision while ultimately remaining deep-down uncommitted.

Joshua said:

But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).

Absolutely we want to serve the Lord!  We know what He’s done for us and we’re going to serve Him!

They didn’t consider, though, that the commitments we make in life aren’t just one time choices.  They are the guides we use for the daily choices and the moment-by-moment decisions that require self-denial and self-discipline.

The choice to spend time with God despite busyness and distractions–that’s daily.

The choice to deny self and serve—that’s every day any time of the day.

The choice to submit to God and the leading of the Holy Spirit—that’s every second.

In the end, for all their shouting about how they would serve the Lord, the Israelites chose day after day to disobey Him and to pursue their own agendas, to worship false gods and break all the commandments He had given for their protection and purity.

Today, let us pause, taking the time for just this moment, first to listen.

What, God, are you asking of me?

And then before we rush into commitments and assurances, we consider the cost, we determine in our hearts, and then—only then—we make the choice.

But it doesn’t stop there.  The day after that and the next day and the next, we choose Him, choose to follow, choose to obey.  Sometimes we mess up, but we thank Him for fresh mercies and try again with choice after choice, showing that yes, we will serve the Lord.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in November 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

No Pain, No Gain: Part III

I went back for day two.

Sure, I still ached in all my muscle groups and couldn’t navigate the stairs for two days, but I dutifully started the exercise DVD again and followed the instructor’s ever-patient directions.

Then, she told me to “feel joy in the challenge” just as I thought I was going to collapse.  She calmly whispered that I needed not just to focus on moving correctly, but also on looking like I “took joy in the exercise.”

She wanted me to smile about the fact that my legs were on fire.

I talked in No Pain, No Gain: Part I and Part II about the reasons we often fail, give up, and fall back into old habits.

Lesson Three: You Don’t Have to Like It

There’s another agent of sabotage, though.  It’s not just that we demand immediate results from our exercise efforts; it’s that we expect to actually like this fitness stuff.

Some people really do enjoy bicycling frantically and never getting anywhere or kicking at imaginary objects in the air or whatever their fitness plan involves.  These are the Facebook friends whose fitness posts last all year long.  They’re still kickboxing in October and they’re running marathons in December.

But, if you’re anything like me, the problem with exercise is that you . . . don’t . . . like . . . it.

I’d rather spend my time doing most anything else than sweating and aching along with an upbeat exercise instructor.

That’s right, I would rather clean.

And do laundry.

Even go to the dentist.

Here’s the catch.  I don’t like to exercise.  Yet, if I stuck with it and endured the daily boredom and soreness, I would like the results.

I don’t just mean I’d transform into a poster-child for physical fitness.  It’s not about weight loss.  It’s not about dress sizes.  It’s not about looking gorgeous.  Not for me.  After all, our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and that means we need to tend the Temple.  We need to keep it healthy, in repair, and cleaned out.

But, the Temple itself shouldn’t be the object of our worship.  It’s too easy to become obsessed with how our Temple looks on the outside and neglect the internal dwelling space of the Holy Spirit.

No, for me it’s about the fact that my body needs the exercise.  I know my heart and other body systems benefit from the movement, exertion and rhythm.  Not only that, but I know my emotional balance gets a bonus, too.

It’s good for me.  That’s the bottom line.

Even beyond that, I am doing something I know that I need to do even though I don’t like it.  That, my friends, is the very definition of self-discipline.  So, popping in that exercise DVD even when I’m tired, whiny, busy, or just plain (to be honest) lazy works on my character.  Pretty soon, I’m seeing the Holy Spirit fruit of self-discipline popping up all over my life.

We may not enjoy the exercise of our faith-muscles, either.  Not the spiritual battles, the trials, the waiting on God, the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, and daily study.  It takes self-sacrifice to trade in an hour with the TV for an hour with the Lord.  It takes self-denial and some cross-carrying to exchange our will for His and walk in painfully radical obedience.

This isn’t fun.  It certainly isn’t easy.  We don’t journey to Christ-likeness for a good time and a few laughs.

We do it for the results: for the intimacy of our relationship with Him, for the power of our testimony, for the glory of His name, for the future in heaven when all this earthly turmoil is traded in for true unhindered joy.

James wrote:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).

His message to the Jewish Christians was to keep their eyes on the prize.

Notice he didn’t tell them to “feel pure joy” about the trials they faced.  Beth Moore in her study James: Mercy Triumphs says, “The word ‘consider’ calls us to a mental exercise, not an emotion.”

This is when we “boss our feelings around” as Lysa TerKeurst would say.   We may not feel like jumping around rejoicing about our circumstances, but we deliberately and purposefully choose joy in the midst of them, because we know that God is working in us.  There will be results.  We will be more Christ-like tomorrow than we were today.

Now that’s something to motivate you to keep going, my friend.

Not only that, but this perseverance isn’t just passively buckling the seat belt and holding on for dear life as God maneuvers around obstacles.  We don’t just survive various trials.  We don’t collapse at the end of the finish line, having walked the last mile or two of our journey.

We actively endure.  We battle the Enemy.  We conquer our emotions and the slings and arrows of doubt and shame that Satan pommels our mind with every day.

We fight spiritual foes on our knees and then we defeat our own fleshly selves by practicing self-discipline.

And it’s not because we like it.

Our joy is that He’s with us.  It’s our joy that He cares about us enough to carry us through, to fight on our behalf, and to keep working away at our character so that we can be more useful to Him–a vessel fit for showing off the Master’s expertise and also filled to the brim with a testimony of grace to share with others.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King

No Pain, No Gain: Part I

Two hours later and my legs still feel like Jello molds.  I’m wobbling around my house as if I couldn’t pass a sheriff’s breath test–not sore, just unstable.

I’m not a gym exerciser.  The idea of working out publicly terrifies me.  All those people running on their treadmills, biking effortlessly or using mystifying exercise equipment with bars and pulleys would get a quick self-esteem boost from my presence, I’m sure.

I, on the other hand, would be reminded that I don’t know what in the world I’m doing when it comes to fitness.

But we all want to be healthy, right?

And we all want to look as if we’re pros at this whole exercise thing, right?

So, I’m more of an exercise video kind of girl from the secluded privacy of my living room.  Either that, or I’d rather just eat less and skip the exercising all together (does that really work?)

Today, I popped in a video run by a perfectly toned ballet instructor, who tells me reassuringly that she danced for years with the Virginia Ballet and now runs her studio in California.

I want to look how she looks.

So, in moments, she had me performing plies and demi-plies and standing in first position and I pointed my toes and straightened my posture to match her.

For five minutes it was easy.  Ten minutes later, I considered limiting all future exercise attempts to nothing more coordinated or complicated than walking.  After all, I’ve been walking quite well for a few decades, so I am pretty sure I could master the basic moves.

All in all, I took from my morning exercise experience these things:

  • I do not look like the sculpted toothpick of a ballerina on the television screen nor can I move like her.
  • I may not be able to walk correctly for a week.
  • I may not have mastered the art of exercise still, but I took away a few spiritual lessons I could share with you instead.

Lesson One: It Wasn’t Always Easy for Them

This super-ballerina with the perfect shape could lift her leg sideways so that it was perpendicular with the rest her body.  She contorted herself without any evidence of pain or effort into a perfect letter T.  If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I’d have sworn it was impossible for anyone not in the circus.

She made it look easy.

It wasn’t.

Sometimes we read Scripture and feel the frustration when we don’t look like the spiritual giants we find on the pages.  We’re not David or Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist or Paul.

We stumble.  We mess it up.  We make bad choices at times and struggle with sin always.

This morning, I read, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). For a brief moment, I thought, “Sure, easy for him to say.”

But of course it wasn’t easy for James, the half-brother of Jesus, to curb his tongue and control his anger.

Years earlier, before Jesus’ public ministry had truly launched, his own family, including James, had mocked him, saying,

‘“Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.’ For even his own brothers did not believe in him” (John 7:3-5).

Disciplining your tongue and emotions is no overnight accomplishment, not for James, who once used words to taunt Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah.  Not for Paul, not for Peter–and not for you or me.

I’m sure it wasn’t a cake-walk, either, for John the Baptist to be obedient to his call.  I always assumed he lived out in the desert all alone, wearing camel hair and eating honey and wild locusts because he was just a quirky kind of guy.  Maybe he enjoyed that diet.  Maybe he wanted to stand out from the crowd with his own personal style.  People eat odd things and wear “unique” outfits all the time.

Really, though, he wasn’t following a personal health regime or starting his own fashion trend.

John the Baptist was living a life of radical obedience. Surely he smelled the fish crackling over the campfires around the river many nights and longed for a delicious, fulfilling meal.  Certainly he caught the scent of fresh bread baking in the simple homes along the Jordan River and longed not just for a slice of bread, but perhaps a family with whom to share it.

But he kept to his diet of bugs and honey and a life of solitary confinement because of self-disciplined, self-sacrificing obedience.

Paul tells us: I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27, NASB).

That Barbie-look-a-like of a ballerina on my television screen did not perform plies, tendues, and releves fresh out of her mother’s womb.  She took lessons and invested years of intense practice and focused instruction to stand and move and bend with a dancer’s ease and grace.

Don’t give up on your spiritual walk just because the girl in your Bible Study class quotes Scripture like she wrote it herself, or the mom in your prayer group sounds like she prepared her prayers in advance with a poetry instructor, or the woman in front of you during worship service knows all the words to the songs and sings like she means every word.

Don’t be discouraged when you study the Top 40 Heroes of the Faith in Scripture and feel like you fall short.

They struggled.  They messed up.  They sinned. They repented.  They studied, learned from others, were disciplined by God, and humbly grew to maturity.  Never attaining perfection on this planet, they became instead usable vessels for God’s purposes.

We all begin this Spiritual journey imperfect and the very essence of our faith is that we all need a Savior.  So, don’t give up.  Keep exercising the muscles of belief, patience, faith, and self-discipline.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.